The UN agencies have hidden the document of the MoU they signed with the Myanmar on the Rohingya return from its special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
At a press briefing in Dhaka on Sunday at the end of her Bangladesh visit, Yanghee Lee said she was “extremely concerned that it has been kept secret including by the United Nations agencies involved”.
The special rapporteur said the repatriation talk is “extremely premature” as brutality is still going on in the northern Rakhine State.
Myanmar signed an MoU with the UNDP and the UNHCR last month to support the creation of conditions for the return of refugees from Bangladesh.
Lee said after hearing the news of the signing of the MoU, she had sent a request to the government of Myanmar through its permanent mission in Geneva for a copy.
“They did not provide me with a copy but instead shared with me a summary that was prepared by one of the UN agencies.
“Over the last three weeks, I also made requests in person to senior officials of the United Nations, who despite promises, have not shared a copy of the MoU with me,” she said.
“The refugees I spoke with in Cox’s Bazar expressed their deep concerns, disappointment and anger over the lack of transparency,” Special Rapporteur Lee added.
“While I am not aware of the exact terms of the MoUs, I am extremely concerned that it has been kept secret including by the United Nations agencies involved and urge the parties to make it public.”
Earlier, media cast doubts about the future of the repatriation following the ‘secret’ deal as it did not mention the ethnic identity of those forcibly displaced Muslim Rohingya refugees. Myanmar denies the citizenship of Rohingyas.
Repatriation talk ‘extremely premature’
The special rapporteur shared the experience of her interactions with the Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Cox’s Bazar camps.
Lee maintained that the repatriation talk is “extremely premature” as the cruelty is being meted out to the people in the Rakhine State.
Some recently arrived Rohingyas told her that the situation in northern Rakhine is “far from stable or safe, systematic violence targeted against the remaining Roihngya population continues.”
They also told her that the Myanmar security forces had entered their villages and told them that they must accept the national verification card – a form of documentation that does not provide citizenship rights and which the Rohingyas reject – or leave.
Several women told her that the security forces searched for their husbands who had been staying out of houses in fear. They said that they had been raped when their husbands were not found.
“I was horrified to be told by one woman that her 12-year old son had been chopped to pieces when he visited the family’s fish hatchery, after the family had been told by security forces that they could not go there unless they accepted the verification card. Such brutality, and to a child, is deplorable.”
According to Special Rapporteur Lee, it is clear that the Myanmar government has made no progress or shown any real will to dismantle the system of discrimination in the country’s laws, policies and practices, and to make northern Rakhine State safe for the Rohingya refugees to return in near future.
“So there must have some medium and longer term planning in Cox’s Bazar,” she said suggesting three things – first, education for all, second, access to meaningful livelihood opportunities and vocational training, and third, freedom of movement.
“These efforts must be consistent with international standards,” she said.
The human-rights activist also asked the international community to establish accountability mechanism for Myanmar immediately to ensure justice for Rohingyas.
“Enough is enough. Justice is the key demand of the Rohingya refugees I spoke during my mission,” she said, “Everyday is a reminder of what happened in Myanmar, their home country, and their uncertain future.”
The special rapporteurs are experts who work on a voluntary basis. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
Lee was denied access to Myanmar after the latest violence in the Rakhine State.